Much Ado About Nothing

As easy as it is for a Spanish-speaking student of English to recognize that much means mucho, and for an English speaking-student of Spanish to recognize that mucho means much, the truth is that in spite of their striking resemblance in form and meaning, the two words are not etymologically connected. This shocking news—shocking in the world of etymology, that is—comes just two weeks after the posting about hawk, which revealed that English have and Spanish haber are likewise unrelated to each other despite their close resemblance in form and meaning.

Spanish mucho evolved from the synonymous Latin multum, which is recognizable in a word like English multitude, for which Spanish has muchedumbre. The Latin original goes back to the Indo-European root *mel- ‘strong.’ In contrast, English much is a shortened version of Middle English muchel, which came from Old English mycel, a descendant of the Indo-European root *meg- that meant ‘great’ and is ultimately the ancestor of Spanish más.

So mucho and much are another shining example of the adage, as true in the realm of words as in any other field, “No todo lo que brilla es oro/Not all that glitters is gold.” But historical truth aside, English speakers understand mucho so easily that some of them have begun using mucho as English slang. Webster’s New World College Dictionary gives the examples “in mucho trouble” and “for mucho bucks.” And I hope that you are mucho pleased with today’s posting.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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